The Yellow Bead

**Note..I wrote this blog a few years ago when my friend April Sims  asked me to do a guest blog for Black History Month.  I recently saw a news article that was giving statistics about what races were more likely to have friends outside of their own race and I felt a little sad that someone actually felt there was a need to research that.  It reminded me of this blog I had written and how adopting trans-racially has made me look at my world quite differently than I did before…even with a circle as colorful as mine was before my son came along. 

The Yellow Bead 

(Alex in his Korean Hanbok *photographer: Thomas Aaron)


I sat with my paper cup in one hand and a pile of multicolored plastic beads in front of me waiting for the next statement.  The adoption class teacher said, “Most of the people in my church are…..?”.   I struggled with this because my church is very racially mixed.  But reluctantly I picked up a white bead and put it in the cup.  I had to admit that MOST of the people at my church are white.   I looked down in my cup at the white, black, and brown beads all mixed together in fairly equal numbers.  I was pretty happy seeing that I had such a colorful cup.   The key word of course is “MOST”.  I’m white.  So “MOST” of my relatives are white.   Question after question….”most” of my friends are…, coworkers are…, neighbors are…., etc.     But despite how diverse my circle is, there wasn’t one yellow bead in the cup.  The yellow bead would soon be my son.  He will be the only Korean relative, the only Korean neighbor, maybe the only Korean friend in his class.  I won’t see him as anything other than my beautiful child and my love for him transcends the color of our skin.  But I know the rest of the world isn’t always so loving.

This exercise opened my eyes to how my son would feel in my world and how I take my skin color for granted.  And that no matter how open minded I am, no matter how many brown and black beads I have in my cup, I’m still a part of the majority of the beads.   And quite honestly no matter how often I may be the only white person in the room, at the end of the day I can go to my parents’ house, go to my church, flip through a family photo album, and I will be surrounded by people who look like me.  I won’t be the only white bead.  My son will NEVER know what that feels like.

When April asked me to do a guest blog during Black History Month I thought of so many topics I could blog about but every one of them came back to race and how we view each other.   So many conversations I have overheard or unfortunately had to endure simply because the people talking assumed since my skin was the same color as theirs that I also would share or tolerate their ignorance.  Or in contrast since I am “down” with African Americans that the derogatory comments about white folks won’t offend me.  “You’re not really white Janice”.  I’m not?  I’ve heard white and black people speak of each other as if we are of a different breed.  As if we aren’t all humans.  Some of the things I have heard are pretty disturbing.  I don’t need to recount them all.  It’s disappointing.  I recently heard someone say, “Why do THEY need a whole month for Black History?”  I always cringe at the “us” and “them” mindset no matter who it’s coming from.  Sometimes I will speak up and defend the truth but let’s face it, sometimes you are just wasting your breath.  Some folks just got a whole cup full of white beads.  These folks probably don’t want to hear that the truth is until “THEY” have more than just a chapter or a mention in “YOUR” history book then there will always be a need for Black History Month.  I never really understood why history isn’t just history.  I’m not preaching or looking for approval…that’s just the truth.  And here’s a good one….since the human species originates from Africa then we are all related, right?  It’s OUR history, right?  (I’ve learned that some folks with all white beads (and some with all black beads) really hate that little factoid.)  But hate it or not that is a fact.  I shouldn’t even have to explain that.  That should be common knowledge.

I am a child of the 70s.  I remember growing up with the very cocky notion that we might be the ones to make a change in the world when it comes to race relations.  We might be the ones who will look at each other and see how much we are alike and not just how different we look, yet still be able to celebrate who we are.  After all, there we were sitting next to each other learning.  There we were going to dances and proms together, playing sports together on the same team, riding the bus together, graduating together.  We saw adults dividing themselves and we laughed at how narrow minded they were.

But now I’m an adult and we work together, shop together, worship together, create together, LIVE together.  And 30 something years later despite all the black and brown beads in my cup we still have so much to work on.  We still aren’t looking at each other and seeing the similarities.    I’m disappointed in us.  Not “THEM”….”US”.  All of us.  The bottom line is that even after all this time we still haven’t gotten it right.  We are appalled at the idea of the “Whites Only” establishments that wouldn’t allow black people to sit at their lunch counters.  It truthfully wasn’t that long ago.  And there are a lot of people who still draw a very distinct line between themselves and other races.  They are very comfortable in their ignorance.   I know this blog isn’t going to solve that.  I just know that the missing link is the knowledge and acceptance that we are all one in the same and that somehow folks have forgotten that or just never learned it to begin with.  I have to accept that although I was so sure my generation would change things, I really might not live to see that world.  But I have faith that there are a lot of people out there with multicolored beads in their cups.  And I know the love in our circle is powerful and growing.  And I hope that one day it won’t be odd for some people to learn that my son is Korean and his uncle is African America, his auntie is Mexican, and we are all a family.  We all belong to each other.

“If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other.”  ~Mother Teresa

Love and Light,

Janice B.

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Aiming the Gun, Taking a Life (My thoughts on the Trayvon Martin case)

I used to keep a gun in my house.  A revolver. 

I knew how to use it even though I hoped I would never have to.   Even if someone was breaking the door down I would hopefully be able to escape without having to shoot someone.  But the fact of the matter is when you own a gun you have to also own the fact that you might be responsible for taking someone’s life.  Some people think that sounds easy given the right circumstances.  But most people who think it is easy, people who think that they could easily shoot someone who was trying to harm them or their child, for example, have most likely never even held a gun.   They have no idea what the decision to point a gun and shoot someone brings with it.  It should never be easy.  

I am familiar with and have respect for guns because I grew up with them.  My father was a DC police officer and later homicide detective.  He also used to hunt for food.   We had guns in the house.  I knew where they were.  I knew how to use them.   My father instilled in me that guns are dangerous weapons and that thankfully he had never had to take someone’s life as a police officer.  He said that a good police officer should go their entire career praying they never have to take someone’s life.  And that it was a burden that no one should ever have to carry.   But he also said that you never ever pick up a gun and aim it at someone, human or animal, unless you are ready to accept that burden.  If the possible harm to you is greater than the burden of taking that life then you will have to live with that choice even if you feel justified in making it. 

I’m talking about guns because I wonder what was going through the mind of George Zimmerman the night he chose to aim his gun and shoot Trayvon Martin.  Like pretty much everyone I know, this case is weighing heavily on my heart these days.   It seems the details of that evening keep changing as more witnesses emerge, so even as I type this there may be new developments.   But going from what I know now I’m curious about the mental state of a grown man out in his car, carrying a gun, looking for “suspicious” people.   I’m curious as to why a 17 year old child of any color walking down the street in his neighborhood would appear suspect.  And like everyone else I wonder what in Zimmerman’s soul made him believe that he could go out that night with a gun, cruise the neighborhood, stalk this boy, antagonize him, and take his life?  Who gave him that right?  Did he understand the weight of that choice? 

I know we are all outraged about the actions of the Sanford police department that night.  Even if Zimmerman was being attacked and beaten when he decided to shoot that gun he should have still been detained for questioning until the facts emerged.  “Stand your ground” law or not….basic common sense procedures were ignored.  And given the fact that they KNEW he was following the boy.  They KNEW he was going after Trayvon.  It was clearly premeditated.  If he had stayed in his car and reported the “suspect” this would have never happened.  A child would not have been shot and killed.  Black, white, asian, whatever.  The police failed us.  I know people are pointing to the racial aspects of this injustice making it a black vs. white issue.  I don’t know if the police were racist and I’m not even sure that Zimmerman is white.  But quite honestly I’m saddened that this is becoming a race issue.   Because even though there could be a racist motive here, WE as human beings need to be united in this.  

This is about humanity.  This is about valuing another’s life like you value your own.  The truth is, Trayvon is my son.  He’s my brother, my child, my friend, my coworker, my neighbor.   How many times have I gone out in the rain or cold to get the mail wearing my husband’s hoodie pulled tightly around my face?  You can’t tell my race or my gender.  You can’t tell if I’m “on drugs” or planning to commit a crime.  And what if my neighbor is not mentally stable and decides to shoot me because I appear suspicious?  What if it’s my son as a teenager walking home from school?  What if it was my producer MoRece who walked down Calvert Street in the rain wearing a hoodie just to come to my show at the Baltimore Book Fair to support me?   Truth is it could be any of us.  Yes Trayvon is OUR family.  

But here’s the difficult part.  Zimmerman is our family too.  He’s someone’s child.  We may be sickened by his actions and feel hatred in our hearts for what he did, but he is still a human being.   Since his actions were handled improperly and he wasn’t detained by the police we don’t know yet what his story is.  We don’t know if he is sick or what his state of mind is.  But whether we like it or not he is one of us.   He’s that person who clutches their purse closer when a group of young black men walk by.  He’s those people who hate the Korean ladies in the nail shop because they just know they are talking about them.  He’s just like that uncle who doesn’t trust white people or that cousin who says “there goes the neighborhood” when a black family moves in.  He’s just like those of us who judge by the exterior or by the prejudice we have formed in our hearts instead of looking at each person as a unique individual.  He’s those of us who still don’t see that we are all in this life together.  There is no black or white or asian to that.  We were created by the same force.  We were put here for a reason.   This is who we have become.  And only WE can change it.  I know this blog won’t change much.  But this is so heavy on my heart that I felt the need to say something.  I continue to see the racial division on social networks over the Trayvon case and others like it.  I continue to see the black vs. white and “us vs. them” mindset and it makes me sad.  For whatever it’s worth, I pray we can rise out of this together.     

I no longer own a gun.  Before we adopted my son in 2009 I removed it from my house and gave it back to my father.  I know that while I AM able to shoot someone to protect myself or my family, I also know that as a mother I am NOT able to carry the burden of taking the life of another mother’s child.  I’m a different person now.  I know I don’t want to ever have to make that decision.  I live with peace in my life and in my heart.  My father taught me well.  

As for my father, the retired police officer and former hunter…..he now feeds the deer from his back deck.  He is 83 now.  He has names for them and saves up old bread so that he and my son can feed them when we visit.  He no longer hunts.  He told me he doesn’t think he has it in him anymore.  He has changed.  

Me too Daddy.  Me too. 

Love and light….

Janice B.

The Journey to Mommyhood

We walked through the airport in Europe..August 2010.  I was pushing my 19 month old son in his stroller while my husband lugged the carry-ons.  People stared at us trying to figure out the connection.  The “triad” I believe they call it in the international adoption workshops we attended in the months waiting for our adoption to be finalized.  They look at you, look at your child, look back up at you, look at your spouse, back at your child…in a nice triangle formation.  This was the first time I had experienced this with such intensity.  Some people smiled and spoke to my son in German while others just stared.  My son is too young to know that we will experience this for most likely the rest of our lives.  It’s my job as his mother to prepare him for this but here I am a forty something year old grown woman and I gotta say after all the workshops and classes I attended, even I wasn’t prepared.  Regardless, this is a regular occurance for families formed by international adoption. 

It took me a while to decide if I was going to blog about this.  It’s clearly a topic that I hold very personal.  The journey to become a mother has been one of intense pain like I never imagined and immense joy that I never expected.  I don’t talk about the journey with very  many people.  It’s too much to sort through.  I’ve written no songs about journal entries….I just don’t go there.  But as an artist I know that releasing it is the first step to evolving and healing.  I also know that once you let it go you find out you are not alone.  Many others have been through the same experience.  So for the ones still in the middle of the process…or the others unable to express what they are feeling or the ones who will never know….I write this….. 

No need to bore you with the medical details as to why I do not have a biological child however I will say that I think that as women we have this idea in our heads that when we are ready for a family it will just happen.  This unfortunately isn’t the case with a LOT of folks.  You will have to defend yourself against the million of those “none of your damn business” questions as to why you don’t already have your “own kids”.  After endless intrusive tests we determined that our best chance at becoming parents would be through invitro fertilization.  (IVF)  What a rollercoaster ride that is.  So you spend months injecting yourself with hormones to get pregnant…then hormones to keep you pregnant.  I was a pin cushion..shooting myself up at work and at band rehearsal.  I was also on autopilot.  Not allowing myself to get too happy or too sad.  Just dealing with the changes.  Over 2 years I was pregnant several times and lost all of those children within 8 weeks.  I watched their hearts beat on the ultrasound screen and I watched them fade.  I kept my heart on lockdown as I wept silently and usually alone mourning these children I would never see and never hold.   Letting insensitive comments like “at least you didn’t lose a ‘real’ child” or “you can try again” pass over me from folks who have no damn clue what I am going through.  The pain was too intense to even describe. 

Regardless…after many miscarriages and surgeries and thousands of dollars we were done.  We knew of a few friends who had adopted and several who had gone the international route.  Now enter another wave of intrusive questions….”why aren’t you adopting children here in the U.S.?”…”there are so many kids who need homes..why aren’t you adopting OUR kids?”.  Funny these comments usually come from parents with flocks of biological children they can barely control.  “uhhhh why didn’t YOU adopt some of those kids??” was my thought….but I never spoke it. 

The fact of the matter is when you are in your 40s you are old news in the domestic adoption world.  In domestic adoption it’s a popularity contest.  The birthmother choses who she wants to raise her child.  And you best believe she isn’t going to choose someone the age of her mother.  We weren’t prepared to deal with another round of rejection and heartache.  With international adoption, especially from Korea, you are guaranteed a child.  And Korea is the “cadillac” of international adoption.  There is prenatal care for the mother, well baby visits, and the children are with foster families before being placed…they never stay in orphanages.

I had let go of the idea of having a biological child.  My pain from that was gone.  I knew that being pregnant doesn’t make you a mother and that there was a different calling for me.  I let all of the past float away.  I let the universe decide what would be. We jumped through the hoops of international adoption.  We underwent psychological testing, medical exams, health and fire department inspections of our home, my pets had to be registered, my refrigerator couldn’t have anything expired in it, the water couldn’t be too hot, we needed organized closets and pantries, and baby locks on our cabinets even though we had no children yet.   We filled out forms and questionaires for Korea and sent pictures of my husband and me and of our home.  We went through the numerous workshops and home visits.  It seemed neverending.  We were finally approved and waiting for our son.  On April 24th, 2009 we received the first pictures of our son Alex.  We were overjoyed.  But the waiting continued.  We got monthly updates of his health.  “Big Happy baby” was the common theme. 

Then in July of 2009 we had a setback.  We received notice from our social worker that the birthmother was having second thoughts.  In her many years as a social worker this had never happened.  (not comforting in the least bit!)  I was numb.  My husband was angry.  Our baby had a name, a nursery newly decorated and ready for him, grandparents carrying his picture around.  This cannot happen.  But truthfully, deep in my heart I felt so bad for my son’s mother.  I can’t imagine the pain of giving birth to a baby and letting him go forever.  Letting him go to a country you will most likely never visit and to strangers you will never know.  So even though my pain was intense it was nothing like she was feeling.  I sat in my son’s waiting nursery one night with a candle burning.  I just sat there.  No prayers.  I just tried to feel what she was feeling and to somehow let her know that he would be loved here and that it was okay.  I just let go of it all and tried to hold on to the fact that if she decided to keep him, it would be the best choice for him.  Even now I cry typing this.  It was such a surreal time in my life.   

We waited endless weeks in limbo as the birthfamily wavered.  I felt that if the adoption went through and we finally got our son, that one day I could at least tell him something that most adoptive parents cannot say with such certainty….that his mother wanted him….that she had second and third and fourth thoughts.  That she tried everything to keep him.  I knew in my soul she was a good person and had a conscience.  And these were qualities that also would reside in my child.  I could tell him this with no doubt. 

On September 29th, 2009 my son arrived with a Korean escort at Dulles airport.  He wanted nothing to do with me and clung to my husband for dear life.  He screamed all the way home…my husband in the back seat trying to calm him.  Me sitting in the front passenger seat completely speechless and my friend driving and holding my hand.  They don’t have carseats in Korea…they don’t sleep in cribs….they don’t use pacifiers.  We spent several weeks getting him adjusted to our world.  We slept on the floor with him.  We held him tightly when he awoke screaming, no doubt subconsciously mourning his foster family of 6 months….the only family he has ever known. 

It took some time but now….a year and a half later my two year old is without a doubt MY child.  He wants “mommy” most of the time now.  Speaking in full sentences and way too big for me to be picking up all of the time!!  And somehow he has my fiesty disposition.  🙂  I have learned that I don’t have to answer the curious questions of strangers if I don’t want to.  And I will teach him the same.  His story is his personal business and his decision if he wants to share it.  What more do you need to know?  Yes he is MY child.  What is that insensitive question you just asked me???  “How much did he cost?”  LOL  Why my dear….he is PRICELESS!! 

Much love and light….

Janice B.